Senate May Stall Military Bill Addressing Sexual Assault

The National Defense Authorization Act, which has been passed through Congress every year since 1963, may be stalled in the Senate at year's end by Republican senators angry that they are no longer allowed to add amendments to it. The bill, which is intended to fund the military, also contains many provisions to address the problem of military sexual assault.

The bill ostensibly has bipartisan support, so hopefully legislative wrangling over technicalities won't keep it from going into effect on time. The bill was passed by the House on Thursday night by a healthily bipartisan 281-vote margin. On top of that, it was the last bill passed by the House before the end of the year. But even with pressure to behave similarly, the Senate, which stalled a similar bill last month, might not be so friendly.

Senate Republicans are still angry over the recent rule changes in the Senate to curb the stalling that has become so infuriatingly common in Congress. In addition, this bill was written with the aim of avoiding any additional amendments, all of which combine to make Senate Republicans feel pretty powerless.

"We have no more rules, and we have no more comity. We have no more compromise," said Senator Rand Paul. "What we have is poison, poison that’s been given to us by people who have no concern for the rules."

This year's NDAA contains at its core the usual provisions to fund the Pentagon through the 2014 fiscal year, including funding for the military's regular budget ($552.1 billion) and its overseas-conflict budget ($80.7 billion). It also provides for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, continuing construction on military bases, and a one percent raise for all military workers, among other basic fiscal provisions.

The bill also includes a good number of amendments addressing less straightforward policy decisions. Nearly two dozen provisions were added to the bill in an effort to address and curb sexual assault in the military, which affected upwards of 26,000 members of the military last year.

The proposed provisions include banning commanders from overturning jury convictions, doing away with the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, limiting intrusive questioning of victims, and providing victims with legal counsel. Although an additional provision to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command entirely, that bill will still be proposed on its own at a later date.

Even though it's not a cure-all, legislators do hope the package of amendments kick-start sexual assault reform in the military. "There is no single bullet," Rep. Niki Tsongas has said. "This is multifaceted in its challenge and is going to require many, many efforts to deal with those facets."